The government’s proposed voucher system for professional masters is potentially volatile warns Melbourne’s Margaret Sheil 


Deakin Law School dean resigns: after dozens of departures Sandeep Gopalan quits the job, but not the uni


Understated outrage as peak bodies react to Birmingham package, at least the bits they don’t like


Uni IR group says cuts kill case for big pay rises while union warns unis will hire more casuals


Here we go again

“Hmmm another government announces cuts to higher education followed by boost to school funding. Cynical to suggest latter is meant to mask the former?” Charles Sturt U VC Andrew Vann, by Twitter yesterday. And didn’t the Gillard Government cuts to higher education to fund schools spending in Gonski I back in 2013 work out well.

Sheil stands up for Melbourne

University of Melbourne acting VC Margaret Sheil has warned the government against “undermining” the Melbourne model through Canberra’s proposed system of scholarships for Commonwealth Supported Postgraduate Places. The government acknowledges the plan announced by Education Minister Simon Birmingham will impact on the universities of Melbourne and Western Australia, which both use generalist undergraduate degrees combined with specialist masters for professional qualifications.

“These changes, depending on how they are implemented, may have a major impact on our distinctive and highly successful program of generalist undergraduate degrees coupled with postgraduate education for the professions, which is delivering strong outcomes for students,” Professor Sheil told staff last night. The new system is “effectively a voucher system (which) makes this postgraduate student profile contestable and therefore potentially volatile. It makes it difficult for universities and students to plan their futures, especially if criteria change year on year,” she said.

On Monday night, the government promised to “negotiate appropriate transition arrangements … given their current funding agreements support the broad bachelor and professional masters models adopted by these universities.” However, Professor Sheil told staff last yesterday she was intent on ensuring Canberra did so. “We will hold them to this intent, as we work through the details of these proposals. It will be critical to ensure the benefits of the Melbourne Model continue to be realised in a way that doesn’t disadvantage current or future students.”

Deakin dean of law resigns

There’s another resignation at the Deakin University law school. Sandeep Gopalan, who has run a major restructure of teaching and research has stepped down as dean, although he is not leaving the university.

Executive dean for business and law Mike Ewing praised Professor Gopalan in announcing his departure from the job, “I want to again sincerely thank Sandeep for his leadership, vision, energy and commitment. He has worked tirelessly to enhance the quality of legal education provided to Deakin students. Sandeep is one of the smartest, most capable and committed people I have ever worked with.” Professor Ewing told staff that he and Vice Chancellor Jane den Hollander “remain committed to supporting the school on this exciting journey.”

It’s a sentiment not all the staff who were there when he introduced a new strategy share (CMM September 16). Professor Gopalan’s research plan, based on staff publishing in specific fields and his teaching direction, which included bringing in international scholars whose expertise was not in Australian law to broaden the school’s subjects, was accompanied by a raft of resignations. While university and Deakin watchers differ on how many academic staff have left and their reasons for going since Professor Gopalan put his plan in place, overall departures are between 20 and 25, made up of retirements, retrenchments and resignations to move to other law schools.

Commercial law firm partner and former Deakin deputy chancellor Jenni Lightowlers was appointed acting dean “with immediate effect” on Monday.

It’s not over yet

So, with student loans, university cuts and new school funding already announced there can’t be much to look forward to in the budget. Apart, that is, from details on what the hike in HELP payments will do for government finances. Apart from research, perhaps including a hinted-at space agency. And then there is voced funding – while the VET student loan scheme farce is being fixed there is still a new state and federal funding formula to be worked out. Brace for budget night surprises.

Just because they didn’t does not mean they won’t

Critics of the governments cuts gave the four horsepersons of funding apocalypse the day off in responses to the Birmingham funding package. Certainly, student groups thundered about starvation, with course loan repayments to start close to the minimum wage but in general the higher education industry response was restrained. Perhaps they were confounded by the cuts being less than feared (at least until they dig into the numbers) and the presence in the package of ideas they approve of.

Universities Australia was quick to comment late Monday night after the minister spoke, calling the cuts, “a false economy given the crucial role of universities in economic growth and job creation.” And it warned the government’s plan to link 7.5 per cent of grant scheme funding to performance measures is in “a complex area that will need to be handled with great care so as to avoid unintended consequences and perverse outcomes.”

However, UA welcomed continuation of the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme and expanding university provision of sub-degree places. It was also pleased indeed with the proposed payment for work integrated learning study provided by universities. UA says this “will help” establish its plan developed with business groups to prepare students for the workforce.

The Group of Eight also found elements to applaud, but overall was, “frustrated by the Turnbull Government’s attitude to higher education.”

“The sector must continue to work within a distorted funding model that relies on the fee-paying international student market, external support and philanthropy to cross-subsidise domestic teaching and research – all to make up for the government funding short-falls,” CEO Vicki Thomson said.

We cannot welcome a package which is characterised by cuts to university funding and increases to students, especially given our contribution to the broader economy.”

It was left to Labor to invite the four horsepersons out for a ride with portfolio spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek warning the government not deregulating undergraduate fees did not prove a thing.

“The truth is that the Liberals have simply shelved their plans, not dropped them. The Liberals haven’t changed their minds on fee deregulation.  They just know they won’t get their plans through the Senate.  While the Liberals remain in government, the deregulation of uni fees will always be on the table she and colleague Terri Butler warned.

Pearcey promoted

UNSW announces Laurie Pearcey as PVC International. He moves up from the International Office and replaces Fiona Docherty who is now in the international and marketing comms portfolio.

Rise to cut

The Birmingham cuts mean universities cannot afford pay rises, the industry’s industrial association was quick to claim yesterday.

With the National Tertiary Education Union demanding 15 per cent pay rises across the life of new agreements now being negotiated the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association warns the union wage claim, “was always out of step with community expectations given current economic conditions. With the federal government’s higher education plans now out in the open, it’s time for reason to prevail and for the claim to be withdrawn,” AHEIA executive director Stuart Andrews says.

Funnily enough the NTEU did not see the impact of the cuts like that, instead warning that they will encourage universities to use casual teaching staff, who are cheaper than permanent full-timers. “Under these arrangements, tenured teaching and research academics’ positions will become increasingly precarious as universities resort to the use of teaching or research specialists employed on a casual or short term basis to reduce costs,” union national president Jeannie Rea said yesterday.  Um, but won’t a pay rise for permanent teaching staff make this worse?

What will Sinodinos do?

Industry association AusBiotech reports its members had a good 2016. They would be expecting to grow this year as well, if it wasn’t for the federal government’s silence on the proposed $2m cap on cash claims against the R&D tax incentive, loved by companies with products in the early stages of development. The proposal went to former Industry, Innovation and Science minister Greg Hunt, who was moved to health before he had a chance to act on it. Successor Arthur Sinodinos has also done nothing – maybe there’s an announcement in the budget.